Resourceful Records Managers

Our most recent records manager profile: Eira Tansey, Digital Archivist/Records Manager at the University of Cincinnati! If you want to be included contact Jessika Drmacich at jgd1(at)williams(dot)edu!

 

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photo by Cassandra Zetta

1. What led you to choose your current career in Records Management?

After college, I worked for several years in a paraprofessional capacity in New Orleans. Once I received my MLIS, I knew that I wanted to return closer to home (Cincinnati) for family reasons. The timing was perfect, as a digital archivist/records manager position opened up at my alma mater (University of Cincinnati).

2. What is your educational background?

I attended the University of Cincinnati for undergrad (I have a BA in Geography), and I was a student worker at the library where I now work full-time. I did my MLIS through San Jose State’s online program while working full-time at Tulane University’s Louisiana Research Collection in New Orleans.

3. Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field?

I have not had formal RM mentors, but I have many colleagues who have been incredible sources of guidance over the years – particularly Dan Noonan and Pari Swift of Ohio State University. The Ohio Electronic Records Committee has also been a fantastic resource in sharing ideas and understanding records issues pertinent to the state of Ohio.

4. How did you first become interested in Records Management?

I took one course on records management during graduate school, but that was the extent of my records management background before I got my current job.

5. What is your role at your institution?

I am the Digital Archivist/Records Manager for the University of Cincinnati. I am responsible for the university’s records management program, and for the planning and development of workflows related to born-digital archives and digital preservation of electronic records.

6. What do you enjoy most about your job?

The University of Cincinnati is a major urban research university that has undergone a lot of academic and cultural transformation since I was a student ten years ago. As university records manager, I get to access many areas of the university that are often invisible or unknown to my colleagues. I have a sense of what is happening at many levels of the university, and this adds a lot of rich context to the non-records management aspects of my job.

7. What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?

Implementing the University of Cincinnati’s first general records retention schedule in fall 2016. Prior to that, I was juggling hundreds of individual departmental schedules. It was an enormous accomplishment in terms of efficiency and encouraging a shift to greater uniformity in recordkeeping practices on campus.

8. What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ?

My institutional experience is almost entirely non-profit arts organizations and higher education. However, my briefest work experience – several months at Starbucks during college – taught me a lot of lasting lessons about smoothing over cranky undercaffeinated strong personalities!

9. What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?

Learn about how to find, read, and monitor legal and regulatory information. I wish I had discovered that there were legal dictionaries for non-attorneys much sooner than I did!

10. Do you belong to any professional organizations (SAA, ARMA…)?

I am primarily active in archivist organizations, such as SAA and the Midwest Archives Conference.

11. Thoughts on the future of records management?

I always joke that being a records manager has made me a better archivist. Being responsible for writing the retention schedules authorizing the destruction of a majority of my institutions records means I have become far less susceptible to romanticizing archival work than many archivists who do not have records management experience. This sounds dramatic, but ultimately I think my experience as a records manager has liberated me to make better appraisal decisions that serves the needs of current and future users.

12. What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?

Many of the funding and labor issues that affect archives also affect records management. But to take a specific RM concern – I am extremely concerned about how we measure and enforce compliance with records schedules. It’s not just about ensuring records are destroyed – what do we have in place to ensure that records scheduled for long-term preservation in archives make it through the doors of the archives? At my institution, it seems that the “full filing cabinet” was its own trigger to ensure periodic transfers of material. But a full hard drive is easily solved (from the point of view of records creators) by just buying more cheap storage. Within highly decentralized organizations like universities, this means we are very much in danger of losing much of our contemporary digital history.

13. Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?

I love hiking, and watching obscure environmental documentaries about things like icebergs.

14. Do you have a quote you live by?

“Everything in moderation, including moderation” (variously attributed to a lot of people!)

 

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A Records Center is not an Archives: Transfer Forms!

[Note: This was a forum post to the Records Management Section list on SAA’s site that got a little out of hand. Rather than clog everyone’s mailbox, I decided to post it here. The fact that I can add Futurama GIFs to posts here, and not on SAA Connect, had absolutely nothing to do with this decision (he said, unconvincingly.)

For your reference, the original question:]

I’m interested in ANY AND ALL advice you’ll give me on forms and procedure for transferring records to a Record Center.

Our Records Center is revising the information that we ask for from our departments when they transfer records to us for storage, scanning, and/or destruction. I’m interested in seeing your version of a Records Center transfer form.

Do you ask for information at the box level, file level, or both? Do you require a full inventory of each box transferred? Why or why not?

With complex records policies, I’m concerned about overwhelming our customers with another complex form. What methods have you used to educate your users on how to transfer records to your facility? 

Thanks for your help!

Holly

Continue reading “A Records Center is not an Archives: Transfer Forms!”

URLs Aren’t Archives ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and Other Stories

I have not spent much time in recent months following the travails of media organizations such as Gawker and the Gothamist other than to casually peruse tweets on my timeline. A retweet caught my eye the other day, and here we are. Today’s post is mainly in response to “Digital Media and the Case of the Missing Archives,” written by Danielle Tcholakian who in turn seems to have been inspired by an article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Tcholakian’s article provoked a strong reaction from me – sharp, keen frustration. I found the assumptions made by the author to be frustrating. The lack of input in the piece by any institutional archivist, records manager or content management administrator was frustrating. The absence of details, such as the ownership of material posted on sites such as Gawker, was frustrating. The expectation of action on the part of institutions such as the Library of Congress was frustrating. Frustration all around.

I do not in any way wish to devalue the anxiety that journalists or their readership must feel when the URLs to their articles are moved or deleted. Those of us in academic and legal environments have been dealing with link and citation rot for ages. Artists, too, are experiencing the fragility of their online portfolios.

Journalists are not alone.

A Question of Vocabulary

So let us start a mutual conversation with me first asking journalists, what do you mean by “archives”? What are your archives? How are you employing the term? To describe the platform on which your articles are published and disseminated? A collection of PDFs saved on a networked server? Printouts of the articles neatly bound in a Trapper Keeper? Are you including the records of the organization in your definition of archives? The records in which the history of hiring practices, revenue sources, internal policy and decision-making is documented?

Archives the word is a challenging concept. Within the context of archives and records management, archives can refer to:

  • verb, “to transfer records from the individual or office of creation to a repository authorized to appraise, preserve, and provide access to those records”.
  • noun, “an archives”.

Information technologists, data librarians, and information governance professionals may broaden those definitions to include data backups, but generally, archivists tend to shy away from “Big Data” and instead focus on that small bit of material that is deemed archival.

Institutional archives do not have indefinite financial resources. Archivists and librarians are often overworked, underpaid, underresourced, and frankly, undercited. The provision of access and long-term sustained preservation go hand-in-hand. Services such as Archive-It require institutions to make a financial commitment towards server space and the employment of technical archivists to manage institutional collections.

Importantly, modern archivists do not make it a practice of taking things, or blindly capturing online records, without first attempting to identify and secure the right to do so. Violating this principle is wrong, legally and ethically.

I think it would also behoove us to discuss “vital records” for a moment. The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations defines vital records as the essential agency records that are needed to meet operational responsibilities under national security emergencies or other emergency conditions (emergency operating records) or to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and those affected by Government activities (legal and financial rights records). While important, newspapers are not vital records. Janice Okubo of the Hawaii Health Department was most likely talking about records such as birth certificates and taken far out of context.

Media Archives

Since newspapers and media publication serve a variety of business functions, extant newspapers do not exist purely by chance. In the past, publishers recognized the business value of their print and retained copies for their own identified business needs. Perhaps they wanted to have a reference resource, as shown in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. Maybe their intention was more mercantile.

Circulation and subscription models expanded to include the sale, or rental, of microfilmed versions of these publications. Publishers retained the original long-lasting microfilm masters to make even more copies from, or add to their business archives, rendering the retention and management of paper versions moot. Computers made it possible to digitize that microfilm, secure it in a database, distribute publications even more widely.

Unlike print newspapers, digital-only news has no physical form. A subscription to digital content usually provides an institution or reader with rented, limited access to files that are managed by the newspaper producer via a digital asset management system, and the legal terms associated with access. There is a critical difference between this short-term access model and long-term ownership. Under this model, archives and libraries usually do not take custody of the digital objects that comprise the “news”— including images, websites, social media, text, apps,  and other content forms.

This is not to say that there are no media archives. Many media outlets maintain internal corporate archives or employ records managers to manage the CMS. There is a degree of archiving required of these folx in their work, but much of their work is curation – making sure that assets are discoverable and maintained.

Examples of media archives who have made this transition include:

WNYC is a smashing exemplar of how institutional archives can partner with the community it serves. While Gawker is under siege by political and economic forces outside the scope of this post, the Gothamist will continue to exist. WNYC received funding from anonymous sources to purchase the intellectual property rights along with the published material. It is crucial to note that the WNYC archives did not take, or “capture,” the Gothamist website. WNYC worked with the Gothamist to obtain the legal right to retain and disseminate the archives for the future.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is also doing impressive work. They have recently set out to capture Gawker.com with the understanding that the articles disseminated for public consumption are not intellectual assets of Gawker. In other words, Gawker.com is no more protected property than copies of old newspapers found in your grandparents’ attic.

What can journalists do?

Brush up on your information literacy, for one. If your work is changing the world, then you need to carve out some time. Look into services such as Perma.cc and the Wayback Machine. Practice good hygiene in the management of your records. Ask questions at work: does the organization have an archivist or records manager? Who maintains the content management system? What would happen to your work in the event of bankruptcy or a change in ownership? Is our website even technically archivable? Look for opportunities like Personal Digital Archiving for Journalists to expand your knowledge about managing your media for the long haul. Most importantly, please always feel free to reach out to archivists and librarians! Society of American Archivists is one resource. ARMA is another. Explore Open Scholarship with a renewed commitment to maintaining your body of work.

The disposition of ISIS records

The New York Times just broke a story by investigative journalist Rukmini Callimachi titled “The ISIS files” exploring the way in which records kept by ISIS in Mosul reveal its efforts to build bureaucracy. ISIS demanded that Iraqi government workers continue to report to their offices. This allowed ISIS to take over existing state infrastructure, instead of having to invent it from the ground up.

As an archivist and records manager, I tend to read investigative journalism about caches of documents with an eye for the details that often aren’t revealed until several paragraphs in – if at all. Details like, how did the journalist get access to the records? Where are the records now? Were the records mostly intact, or just partial remainders from a larger series that might have been destroyed or removed? Are we talking paper or electronic, or both? What kind of authenticity measures were used to establish provenance? There is a brief exhibit of some of the documents the Times studied, and you can view them here.

Unfortunately, the Times story is light on these details, but there is one particularly revealing paragraph. Callimachi searched many government buildings for any documents she could find:

Because the buildings were near the front lines, Iraqi security forces nearly always accompanied our team. They led the way and gave permission to take the documents. In time, the troops escorting us became our sources and they, in turn, shared what they found, augmenting our cache by hundreds of records.

Callimachi devotes several paragraphs in her story to non-Sunni residents around Mosul (Shia Muslims and Christians) whose property was seized in order to be redistributed to ISIS soldiers and their families. Many of the files contained survey plats and other notes about the property. She writes:

Folder after folder, 273 in all, identified plots of land owned by farmers who belonged to one of the faiths banned by the group. Each yellow sleeve contained the handwritten request of a Sunni applying to confiscate the property.

ISIS-controlled state offices also issued vital records:

Babies born under the caliphate’s black flag were issued birth certificates on ISIS stationery.

I admittedly don’t know the first thing about the Iraqi legal system, but it seems to me that these records will be critical to those individuals whose land was seized by ISIS, or individuals who need access to vital records documenting the time and location of their birth.

Indeed, the question of “what to do with the state records left behind by former regimes?” has been deeply explored in the archival literature, especially within the last several years (Caswell, 2011; Cox, 2010; Cox, 2011; Cox, 2014; Montgomery, 2012; Montgomery, 2014; Montgomery, 2015), and there are also protocols for proper handling of cultural materials in warzones. Interestingly, one commenter suggested that the Times deposit these records at a US special collections for researchers to use. While I don’t expect journalists to be familiar with the work of archivists on the legal and ethical issues of sensitive records, I am very concerned that these records are maintained in such a way that they prioritize the victims’ human rights first and foremost – a need that is potentially (though not necessarily) at odds with the interests of journalists and researchers.

(Update: I had left a brief comment on the New York Times website re: my concern from an archivist perspective, and looks like it’s getting picked up via Twitter. I’m no longer on twitter, but I’d appreciate if someone could DM the journalists on my behalf and connect us!)

 

Next RMS hangout: Records Managers Outside of Archives speak up!

After a few months’ hiatus, the Records Management Section Hangout Series is back!

On Thursday, March 29 at 12:00 CDT, join members of the RMS steering committee in a discussion on ““What RMs Want: Records Managers On What They Wish Archivists Knew About Them (And Vice-Versa)”. Experienced records managers Dennis Larsen (retired, formerly Records Manager for the University of Wisconsin-Colleges and Extension) and Connie Schumacher (Content and Records Manager, Argonne National Laboratories)  will answer questions about their experiences in records management environments in which archivists are removed from the immediate administrative hierarchy, but still interact with the records management staff to fulfill organizational and research mandates. Records Managers in such environments often have very different concerns and priorities than records managers also working as or under an archivist. During the hangout, we will examine those priorities and determine how archivists can work to help meet them, as well as how these different perspectives can benefit an organization’s archival program. (As a municipal records manager under the Milwaukee City Clerk but with working relationships with at least two different City archival or quasi-archival repositories, I will weigh in on this as well!)

To tune in live to the hangout, please visit the YouTube watch page; following the discussion, the recording will be available at that same URL. RMS staff will be monitoring the page feed and social media for questions for our speakers; please use the #saarms hashtag on Twitter to ensure maximum visibility for your question, or leave it as a comment ahead of time at the RMS Blog. Look forward to seeing you there!

I Want to Legal Hold Your Hand

This guest post is by Holly Dolan, MLS, Assistant Manager of Denton County Records Management in Denton, Texas. If you would link to download copies of these valentines for your own re-use, Holly has graciously made this PDF available.

At some point in their career every records manager has felt the air go sour when they’ve walked into a room. What is it about records management that sets people on edge? Perhaps it’s the dense policy documents, the fear of making a mistake, or that dreaded word—compliance—that creates resistance and fear in our customers. Whatever the cause, overcoming this distrust can feel like an impossible task, but failing to address the issue can create communication barriers that make effective records management nearly impossible. So how do records managers build relationships of trust in the organizations that we serve while still gaining compliance?

RMValentines

To build relationships I try to focus on creative outreach, and one easy way I accomplish this is through fun holiday messages. Light-hearted messages make compliance information easier to digest and boosts the knowledge in my organization without relying on formal training. A great example of this type of outreach is our Valentine’s Day cards. When I first designed these cards, the main goal was to make my co-workers in our Records Management division laugh. I quickly realized, with each card having a records management term on them, this was a great outreach opportunity. We sent a copy of the cards to all of our records management liaisons countywide along with a link to our glossary. We received great feedback and even some positive comments from departments whom we rarely have the opportunity to interact with. It was great to see that inserting a little bit of humor into the topic made records management a bit more palatable to them.

Since then, we’ve tried to continue sending creative and upbeat outreach materials. Messages, newsletters, and even policy updates that include fun graphics and colors tend to be well received. For example, new records management liaisons each receive a colorful infographic outlining their duties. Last year’s Halloween message let our customers know that, even though cleaning out your file cabinet can be scary, Records Management can help! I truly believe that since we’ve focused on this type of outreach, our division and its mission has become better received throughout the county.

So why does creative outreach make such a difference? I believe that the nature of our work and the preconceived notions about records management sets us at an immediate disadvantage when attempting to communicate. We need to remain visible to our organizations, but when we just focus on the policy, we tend to exacerbate these communication issues and risk turning people off. Using humor in outreach establishes a mutual humanity with our customers, and when they see that we’re human (rather than the records management robots they were expecting), they may decide that records management isn’t that horrible after all.

HQ2 and the Right-to-Know

Regardless of what camp you find yourself in on the topic of Amazon’s HQ2 courtship with North American cities, the process has triggered open record requests and questions about the degree to which cities are required to disclose the documentation of their overtures to the corporate giant.

This is especially true in Pittsburgh, where inclusion of the region’s bid, titled PGHQ2, as one of 20 finalist cities led to renewed demand for the full proposal to be released via the state’s open records law. Why is this important? Many cities have offered significant tax and civic incentives to sway Amazon’s interest. With promised results of $5 billion in economic investment and the creation of 50,000 jobs, an argument can be made that it is in the public interest to know how elected officials believe HQ2 will influence the social, political, and economic fiber of their region.

These desire for details have manifested themselves in open records requests throughout many candidate cities, to varying degrees of success. Pennsylvania’s mechanism for open records requests, the Right-to-Know Law, was signed into law in 2008 and is facilitated by the state’s Office of Open Records. Like many open records laws, all records are presumed to be public and are deemed “open” unless one of several exceptions bars their disclosure. Thus, the burden is on the government agency to argue why certain records, for instance a proposal with wide-ranging public impact, should not be made publicly available.

AmazonHQ2Finalists_AmazonDotCom
https://www.amazon.com/b?node=17044620011

So what’s happening in the Steel City? Like hundreds of other cities across North America Pittsburgh submitted its bid in October 2017, the details of which were not publicly disclosed. PGHQ2, led by elected city and county officials, first cited a confidentially agreement with Amazon. The reasoning for secrecy soon shifted to “protecting a competitive advantage.” Right-to-Know requests for the proposal were refused. Requests for secondary records (letters, emails, notes) pertaining to the process, not the proposal itself, were met with half hearted gestures. The City initially stated those weren’t public either; the county responded that “the records do not exist.” Eventually these secondary requests were fulfilled through state intervention (Harrisburg itself is a big proponent of Pittsburgh’s bid).

But what of the PGHQ2 proposal? As is often the case with open records requests, persistence pays off. Fast forward two months to January 24, when news broke that Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records issued a ruling on a Right-to-Know request filed by local WTAE reporters ordering Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh to make the full PGHQ2 proposal and corresponding documentation public within 30 days. In a coincidental twist, both entities have 30 days to appeal, the same period one has to return unopened items to Amazon. If delivered, there’s no doubt Pittsburghers will open this proposal package.

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto holding the PGHQ2 proposal. Image Credit WTAE Pittsburgh.

The jury is still out on whether or not it’s truly in the region’s best interest that the PGHQ2 push is successful. With revived economic sectors, oft-touted cultural amenities, regional charm, and room to grow, Pittsburgh’s case is compelling. But the records and documents supporting that case shouldn’t be kept from the very citizens that make Pittsburgh so alluring. Open records laws, like Pennsylvania’s, are meant to serve the public good and promote transparent and accountable government. If Pittsburgh officials baited the PGHQ2 hook with tax incentives, public domain authority, or questionable civic inducements, the citizens of Southwest Pennsylvania certainly have a Right-to-Know.